January 14, 2007

Troops Search for Weapons in Somalia

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Jan. 14, 2007
By MOHAMED OLAD HASSAN Associated Press Writer


(AP) Somali troops and allied Ethiopian soldiers expanded their house-to-house search for weapons Sunday as this country's fledgling government struggles to assert authority over a nation that has known little but clan warfare and chaos for 15 years.

Government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said the search was taking place in several neighborhoods but he refused to comment on the number of weapons seized, saying it was a military secret. On Saturday, troops were searching homes near Mogadishu's main airport.

"The government's plan of disarmament is a way to stabilize the country," Dinari told The Associated Press.

The plan to rid Mogadishu of weapons is fraught in this capital, which is awash in guns after more than a decade of anarchy. Last month, the government _ with the critical help of Ethiopia's military _ drove out an Islamic militia that had controlled much of southern Somalia since the summer.

Hassan Mohamoud said troops entered his house early Sunday and took his Kalashnikov assault rifle.

"I bought the gun about 10 years ago in order to safeguard myself and my family. I never used the gun for violent purposes such as fighting and robbery," he said. "But now I am worrying if the government will take the responsibility of our safety."

On Saturday, Somalia's acting parliament voted to allow the U.N.-backed government to impose martial law for up to three months, deputy parliament speaker Osman Ilmi Boqore said during a legislative session broadcast live on a state-owned radio station.

A few hours later, Ethiopian jets reportedly bombed at least one village in the south, killing three people, a traditional elder said.

Abdi Rashid Sheikh Ahmed told The Associated Press by phone from Af Madow that residents of the village of Bankajiiro came to his town with the bodies of three relatives they said died in the air strike.

Lawmaker Abdulrashid Hidig, speaking from the port town of Kismayo, and Dinari, the government spokesman, said they had heard reports of air strikes but did not have any details.

Ethiopian forces do not speak to journalists in Mogadishu.

Boqore said 154 legislators voted in favor of letting the government impose martial law. He said two lawmakers voted against the motion.

The remainder of Somalia's 275 lawmakers were not present at the session in Baidoa, a western town that had been the two-year-old government's stronghold until the Islamic militia was routed in an offensive that began Dec. 24.

Dinari told the AP he did not know when President Abdullahi Yusuf would sign a decree to impose martial law.

Information Minister Ali Ahmed Jama has said the measure was needed because of widespread insecurity in the country, which has been without an effective government since clan warlords toppled a dictator in 1991 and then turned on each other.

Opposing lawmakers said too many Somalis are armed to impose strict order right now.

As Ethiopian-backed government forces captured the last stronghold of the Islamic movement at the southern tip of Somalia last week, the president secured a promise from warlords to enlist their fighters in the government army.

Yusuf needs to establish enough calm to allow international peacekeepers to deploy in Somalia to protect his government until it can establish an effective police force and army.


Associated Press writers Mohamed Sheikh Nor and Salad Duhul contributed to this report.

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